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What is spiritual psychotherapy?
Spiritually integrative psychotherapy is therapy in which the therapist and client work collaboratively to invite in and include the client’s spirituality, beliefs, religious and spiritual practices into mental health treatment. It is based in traditional talk therapy and is a technique that aids psychotherapy by intentionally inviting in a client’s whole life and value system.
The importance of including a client’s spirituality and/or religious beliefs into mental health treatment to improve recovery and resilience are not new concepts. This is an important area of mental health care whose effectiveness is well documented through over four decades of research and literature by scholars such as Kenneth I. Pargament, Margreet R. de Vries-Schot, Harold G. Koenig, and others.
Basically, spiritually integrated psychotherapy is the practice of purposefully exploring clients’ spiritual and/or religious belief systems, practices, experiences, and worldviews in the context of therapy. This practice enables the therapist to learn the client’s core values and integrate effective, spiritually sensitive interventions for that person. Spiritually integrated therapy can support a more holistic approach to restoration of health and creating well-being.
The therapist can help notice and integrate a client’s values and discover the meaning that arises in relation to a person’s experiences with religion and spirituality in their personal lives, their past, and within the culture or society. Sometimes these experiences involve being hurt by organized religious groups or beliefs. Sometimes these experiences include supports and life-sustaining communities of belonging. Sometimes these experiences are a confusing mixture of both these things and more. Knowing a client’s experiences of spirituality and any connection to their core values and beliefs about life, their purpose, and their interpretation of events in their lives is important to adequately support self-exploration and change ineffective patterns of behavior and distortions that may challenge self-agency and healing.
Historically, many mental health professionals have left client spirituality out of therapy. Very few mental health graduate training programs include guidance on how to fully include a client’s spirituality in therapy. Some mental health professionals may even be hostile toward a client’s beliefs, spirituality, or religious practices. A few clinicians may even scoff at or devalue the role and importance of spirituality in a client’s life. This approach can lead to unfortunate distress in the client and poor outcomes to therapy.
I help mental health professionals learn how to include and utilize insights and possible strengths available within therapy by learning how to competently and non-judgementally invite a client’s experiences and practices of spirituality into psychotherapy.
How do you help therapists learn this skill?
I have specialized education and training in spiritually integrative psychotherapy and I am passionate about helping colleagues become competent and comfortable talking about spirituality in the lives of their clients.
I work together with mental health professionals to help them learn how to ask clients about spirituality and religion in respectful and sensitive ways. I help clinicians learn to recognize places where they and the client are inviting in or blocking out the role and presence of spirituality in the person’s life. I work collaboratively with the therapist to identify and reframe some of the communication happening between therapist and client to take conversations deeper and to gently work with sensitive and important facets of beliefs that influence the individual and their life-choices and actions.
I provide peer support one-to-one and group consultation to mental health professionals to improve on and learn skills of assessing and integrating clients’ spiritual, religious, and existential concerns in psychotherapy. I work with clinicians over time or in one-time seminars to increase their knowledge and awareness of the spiritual dynamics in their client’s lives and how it affects therapeutic outcomes and resilience.
Become more comfortable with client spirituality. ask yourself:
How do I feel when clients want to talk about spirituality or religion?
How might I invite or inhibit a client bringing their spiritual beliefs and practices into the work I do with them?
Do I know what my client's values and self-worth are based in or what informs their choices?
Do I already use any spiritual and religious practices in treatment (Hint: centering, meditation, forgiveness, acceptance, empathy, compassion, breathing, journaling, and etc.)?
Do I ask clients about their spiritual lives, beliefs, experiences, history, struggles, or wounds?
Do I talk with clients about what makes their lives meaningful or gives them purpose or a reason to live?
Do I know how to help clients wrestle with the existential questions they bring with them to therapy? (e.g., Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why do bad things happen?)
Do I feel like spirituality is "too personal" to ask about in therapy or is "not rational" enough to be helpful?
Do I think that I am not "religious" so I cannot help anyone examine the impact of religion and spirituality in their lives?
Do I assume that if spirituality is important enough, the client will bring it up spontaneously?